The Gaping Hole of Grief

The Gaping Hole of Grief

While we were staying at Daisy Lodge my husband asked me to come for a walk with him in Tollymore Forest Park. He wanted to show me something that he had discovered, which he felt was a metaphor for the effects of grief and loss in the life of a family.


I have written directly on the subject of grief on many occasions. Naturally, the theme of grief and loss runs through most of my blog posts, but some of those blog posts have been written almost exclusively about the effects of grief.

First, I wrote Grief – the Pain that Goes on Hurting, next came The Storm of Grief. After this, there was Grief Has No Rule Book, followed by Grief Has No Shortcuts. More recently I wrote Grief Really Is About The Small Stuff and Grief Creeps Up When You’re Least Expecting It and then Wave After Wave Crashes Over Me.

In my role as a volunteer with Youthlife and also in my paid employment as a Family Support Worker, I’ve learned that so many people are living with the effects of loss.

Abortion, miscarriage, infertility, neonatal death, child loss, sibling loss, loss of a spouse or parent, separation, divorce, repossession, loss of health, employment, a significant relationship or even one’s reputation.

Then there is the parent whose child has a disability, or whose child’s lifestyle is very different to the one that their parents would wish for them. Those parents often grieve deeply for the child that they once thought they had, as they learn to let go of the dreams and the plans that they started off with.

There are so many different types of loss and each one can be excruciatingly painful.

Sometimes people say to me “Oh my loss isn’t as bad as yours.

Personally, I don’t think that comparisons are particularly helpful. When you’re grieving a significant loss and in deep pain, I don’t think that it matters whether your loss is more, or less, than anybody else’s. When you’re going through it, it just feels like the end of the world, or your world anyway.

So what did Horace want to show me in Tollymore Forest?

A large tree that had been uprooted in a storm.


As it fell, it had stripped the surrounding trees of their branches.


All around this tree was devastation and a tangled mess.


It left a gaping hole in the forest bed.


Horace says that this is a metaphor for grief and loss.

The bigger the tree, the greater the impact.

The greater the loss, the greater the devastation.

Some of the smaller trees that were close to the fallen tree are bent under its weight.

However, as we continued to survey the scene, we noticed some other things as well: it was a very dark part of the forest, but where the fallen tree had shaved branches off the other trees, the sunlight was breaking through into the clearing.


Also, as I looked closely at the bent saplings beside the fallen tree, I could see greenery – evidence of new growth. In spite of everything, there was new life here.


It reminded me of a quote by Anne Lamott that I have posted on here previously:

You will lose some one that you can't live without

It also makes me think about a conversation that I had with a woman I met recently, who has experienced huge loss in her life.

In the 1990’s her brother was murdered in the troubles – a case of mistaken identity. Two and a half weeks later their mother died of a broken heart.

The doctor told them that there was nothing medically wrong with their mother’s heart, she had literally died of a broken heart – as a grieving parent I can understand that.

This woman has had five other family bereavements, as well as those of her brother and mother.

She told me that overall, what she has been through has made her stronger. Yes, she said, there have been many times when all she could do was cry her eyes out and when she struggled just to get out of bed. However, through it all, she has learned  “not to sweat the small stuff” and to grasp the opportunities that life presents with both hands. She also told me that in her fifties she changed career completely and retrained to do something that she really enjoys. She now uses these skills, in a voluntary capacity, to be a blessing to others who are in a difficult situation.

This reminds me of the Bible verse in
Isaiah 45:3 (NKJV)

“I will give you the treasures of darkness
And hidden riches of secret places,
That you may know that I, the Lord,
Who call you by your name,
Am the God of Israel.”

Sometimes the lessons that we learn in the sad and painful times in our lives become the “treasures of darkness“.

We slowly come to realise, that in those dark and painful times, we have acquired a wisdom that we maybe, just maybe, could not have learned in any other way.

Grief – the pain that goes on hurting

Grief – the pain that goes on hurting

Growing up I had two ambitions – to marry and have kids and to become a nurse and work with children.

I always adored kids and had babysitting jobs from my early teens. My nursing training took me in the direction of working with adults and it wasn’t until 2004 that I “remembered” that I really wanted to work with children so I went to work in a pre-school for children with Special Needs which I really enjoyed.

By then I was married with four children and my family were my life.
My goal in life was to put God first, my children and husband second, then everything else after that.

By 2012 I had got the job that I really wanted – working as a part-time Family Support Worker on the Health Visiting Team. I love babies and small children, I love supporting parents and I loved being back in the Health Service.

I used to wonder if it was ‘normal’ to enjoy one’s job so much. Life was good.

When Leah began having investigations and regular appointments at the start of January 2013, the flexibility of my working hours meant that I could tweak my work commitments, so as to always be there for Leah without ever needing to take time off my work.

My work was my “holy grail” and surely if I could keep that normal then everything else could be normal too.

The next working day after receiving the news of Leah’s awful diagnosis I worked a full morning of Home Visits before informing my manager of what we had been told regarding our daughter. She naturally questioned whether I should be at my work, but I insisted on continuing to come to work – my job was my means of staying sane – or so I thought.

Sadly, 10 days later, it was obvious to both me and to everyone else that I couldn’t combine the demands of caring for Leah and coming to my work.

I found it very distressing for a while to not have the ‘escape’ of going into work. I found it emotionally difficult to always be on the receiving end of the Health Service instead of the giving end – I felt at times terribly vulnerable.

Now it’s been over a year since I last went to work. My employers have been kind to me. My manager and my work colleagues have been incredibly supportive.

A goal has been set for my return to part-time work for the 1st September 2014. I know that the ‘me’ that will return that day will not be the ‘me’ that left in May 2013. I feel like a bird with a broken wing and wonder how it’s possible that I can ever fly again.

I have to continue day by day trusting that God will give me the strength that I need. This morning I was listening to ‘Sovereign‘ by Chris Tomlin and I noticed these words:

Sovereign in my greatest joy
Sovereign in my deepest cry
With me in the dark
With me at the dawn

In your everlasting arms
All the pieces of my life
From beginning to the end
I can trust you

In your never failing love
You work everything for good
God whatever comes my way
I will trust you”

Every day is a challenge – the pain of my loss is like nothing I’ve ever before experienced.

Grief is a pain that just goes on hurting.

Throughout Leah’s illness and death I’ve never felt a need to ask ‘Why?’ 

When Leah was diagnosed one of the Bible verses that immediately came to my mind was

Job 2:10 (MSG)
‘He told her, “You’re talking like an empty-headed fool. We take the good days from God—why not also the bad days?”
Not once through all this did Job sin. He said nothing against God.’

Since Leah’s death my only question has been “How?” – “How is it possible to ever go on living without one of my children?”

More lyrics from ‘Sovereign’ –

All my hopes
All I need
Held in your hands

All my life
All of me
Held in your hands

All my fears
All my dreams
Held in your hands

All my hopes
All I need
Held in your hands

All my life
All of me
Held in your hands

All my fears
All my dreams
Held in your hands

In your everlasting arms
All the pieces of my life
From beginning to the end
I can trust you’